The United States Attorney’s Office has indicted eleven Dominicans involved in a criminal conspiracy to threaten and extort money from American internet pharmacy customers by impersonating government agents.

Investigators received over 1,000 complaints from American victims who paid imposters hundreds of thousands of dollars as so-called “fines” to prevent prosecution for purchasing drugs without a valid prescription over the internet or by telephone. The extortion amounts requested generally ranged between $2,500 to $25,000 and often the extortionists called back after receiving payment to seek more money.

The specific victim identified with the eleven indicted extortionists paid them over $85,000, under threat of arrest for illegally purchasing weight loss medication over the internet. In addition, the same people, impersonating government agents, tried to persuade the victim to join a supposed lawsuit against the Dominican drug distributor that sold the weight loss medication by “paying the taxes on the ‘settlement’ in advance, reports the U.S. Drug Enforcement Administration.

“When consumers purchase drugs online from unscrupulous Internet pharmacies, they not only put their health at risk but subject themselves to extortion and compromise their personal financial information,” said Kathleen Martin-Weis, Acting Special Agent in Charge from the Food and Drug Administration’s (FDA) Office of Criminal Investigations.

If convicted, those indicted face maximum penalties of 20 years in prison and fines of up to $250,000 for each count of wire fraud and additional time and penalties for conspiracy.